Does Punching a Pillow When You’re Angry Really Help?
Have you ever directed an angry child to go punch a pillow? Hoping that would provide some cathartic release for their frustration?
Parents have even bought their angry kids punching bags in hopes it will help. Good idea. Bad plan. It turns out this usually backfires.
There’s a good reason why.
Punching a pillow or yelling to let off steam does nothing to resolve the original problem. It gets a kid all worked up, adrenaline flowing, with no real resolution to their anger. After the punching and yelling are done, the problem is still there.
What punching something when angry actually teaches
My wife Lynne recalls the time she went out into the garage, and screamed and kicked the tires of the car. “I was hoping to subdue my intense anger at my kids. It did NOT release my tension. Instead, I ended up with a sore throat, stubbed toe, and feelings of foolishness to my anger.”
Hitting a pillow, punching bag, or some other inanimate object, teaches your child to vent his anger at something neutral. This does nothing to validate his feelings or solve the problem. It does not build wisdom. Instead, this usually teaches kids to be passive aggressive with their anger.
What does research show about hitting things when angry?
Research shows punching something when you are angry reinforces the link between being angry and acting in an aggressive manner. It communicates the message, “Harming something will help you feel more in control.”
There is a better message to convey: “Figure out what you’re feeling, and take responsibility for that. You’ll feel more in control, and then you can constructively resolve your anger.”
(See action points below for specific suggestions on how to teach this.)
Help kids make a plan for releasing big anger constructively
Want to better equip your kids to express their anger? Help them learn new skills for constructively expressing that anger.*
Ideas to help kids express anger without aimlessly punching anything:
- Model identifying and problem-solving difficult feelings yourself. “I’m so mad! I don’t know how to solve this problem, so I’m going to take some time to think about it.”
- Suggest physical movement that has a constructive end goal. “Let’s go play a little catch or you can ride your bike for a bit. Then we can talk about this issue.”
- Go for a run with your child.
- Ride bikes.
- Toss a ball.
- Jump on the trampoline.
- Practice kickboxing or a martial art. (Note: It’s purposeful aggression, so long as your child practices when they’re not angry too.)
- Ask kids questions that help them identify feelings. “You seem upset. Tell me about that.”
- If they can’t figure it out, offer some choices:
- “Do you feel more angry, or hurt, by what just happened?”
- “What would you like to do about how you’re feeling?”
- “What would you feel good about as you look back on it?”
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If you’ve got an intense, sensitive child
Some kids can’t process their feelings until their body calms down. Physical movement with a purpose (other than aggression) helps calm a nervous system that is in a “fight-or-flight” response.
Or, as they say, “Emotion follows motion.”
One mom found a solution for her intense daughter who was beginning to show aggressive tendencies when angry. She would invite her daughter on a run. While running, they would talk about the problem. First, they would identify feelings. Then it was easier to problem solve them.
Download our FREE in-depth ebook Helping Kids With Anger. It will provide thoughtful insights and creative ideas to help your struggling child.